Star trails are a popular subject to shoot this time of year, but knowing how to use your camera’s Bulb mode setting is the only way you’ll get an exposure long enough to capture the classic night photography effect you’re after. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to hold the shutter open as long as you like.
Your camera’s Bulb setting allows you to hold the shutter open for as long as you like, so that you can make long exposures of several minutes or even hours.
One area of photography when the Bulb function comes into its own is for shooting star trails, where you need to keep the shutter open for upwards of 30 minutes.
The simplest technique for capturing star trails is to keep the shutter open long enough so the movement of the stars is recorded as curved lines across the picture.
The main obstacle for star trail photography is other light sources, mostly from built-up areas, but also from the moon.
You need to find an area free of light pollution, and choose a night when there is a new moon or a time when the moon is below the horizon during the exposure. Check the internet to find your nearest dark sky area.
Star trails are possible with any camera that has a Bulb mode. In order for the star trails to appear brightly in the final image, you’ll need to use a lens with a wide aperture of f/2.8 or f/4, so that plenty of light reaches the sensor.
Wide-angle lenses are best, so that lots of the star-filled sky can be included in the shot.
Step by step how to use Bulb mode to shoot star trails
01 Using Bulb mode
Bulb is best activated using a lockable remote release so that the shutter can be released and locked open for any length of time. Set the shooting mode to Bulb, then use the remote release to lock open the shutter. Close the shutter by unlocking it.
02 Star trail prep
To shoot a successful star trail, choose a clear, moonless night away from any light pollution. Set the camera up on a tripod while it’s still light. Compose your shot using a wide-angle lens to include foreground interest, such as a tree or unlit building.
03 Taking the shot
Fit a fresh battery: they drain quickly in Bulb mode. Set a wide aperture and an ISO of 800 to 1,600. Now you’ll need to wait for it to get totally dark or come back later. Release the shutter in Bulb mode and expose for between 30 and 180 minutes to record trails.
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